IN A province where 46000 jobs were lost between January and March and where the official unemployment rate is near the 30% mark efforts to salvage one of our most labour intensive agricultural enterprises should, on the surface of things, be heartily welcomed.
But the recent allocation of R60million by the department of rural development and agricultural reform to the largest tea estate in the southern hemisphere, Magwa Tea in Lusikisiki, raises more questions than it provides answers.
Despite its R1.2-million monthly salary bill Magwa has fallen woefully short of its potential. It has been wracked by mismanagement, labour strife, violence and looting.
Visitors to the estate reported that the tea bushes were so neglected that they had been allowed to grow to twice the desired size.
Simply put Magwa is a template of gross incompetence created by greedy workers and greedy managers – a tragedy in one of the province’s most impoverished regions, one not only suffering chronic unemployment but the devastation of having one of the highest HIV-AIDS incidences in the country.
When productivity ground to a total halt at Magwa last year and national government intervened with a R42-million bail-out the need for productive enterprise could not have been greater. But there seems to have been little return on this investment. Rather it seems to have disappeared into what is widely described as a bottomless pit.
Now once again we see a massive injection of taxpayer money.
While government acknowledges the past problems it tells us that this time things will be different. Of the R60-million, a R26million share is going to repairs, fertiliser and “normalising” primary production. More than half – R34-million – is for “strategic partners” to manage the estate and administer funding.
But who exactly are these new managers, what is their track record, what are their credentials and through what process were they secured for service at a cost of R34-million, and what exactly is their plan?
If they are from the politically connected flock who have wreaked havoc in our parastatals we can have little hope. We sincerely hope this is not so – and for this reason we appeal to the department for full disclosure. If it is sincere about the salvation of Magwa total transparency is vital. Wrack, ruin and waste must not be an option. And if government cannot get the job done it must, as one of our readers suggested, consider full or partial privatisation.